Three days after time expired on Super Bowl XLIX, Oliver Luckett still can’t wrap his head around how badly they blew it. His frustration has nothing to do with the Seattle Seahawks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and everything to do with halftime-show headliner Katy Perry’s failure to exploit her moment in the spotlight to connect with fans via social media.
In the hours leading up to her performance, which drew a record 118.5 million U.S. viewers, Perry tweeted only three times to her 65 million Twitter followers. Other social platforms got no love at all.
This, Luckett contends, is heresy. “Shame on her. Look at her Facebook page—not one mention of the Super Bowl! It’s unbelievable,” he says, shaking his head as he scrolls the MacBook screen in front of him. “The night of the Super Bowl, I sent her page to the execs at Universal [Music Group, Perry’s record company] and said, ‘Guys, y’all need to be fired. You’re embarrassing yourselves.’ Her fans wanted to interact with her. Where are the Instagram photos? Show me her inspirations. Show me something. Get people excited.”
Luckett knows that even the smallest scrap of content—a clever tweet, a Vine video, an image filtered through the Instagram prism—can have a massive and long-lasting impact across the social landscape. TheAudience, the Hollywood-based media publishing startup he founded in 2011, is cashing in on this fact with a new kind of celebrity endorsement that aligns corporate clients with social media tastemakers and trendsetters—the digital-savvy teens and twentysomethings who’ve leveraged YouTube, Snapchat and other platforms to catapult to global fame. Some are fashion models, some are DJs, some are extreme athletes, and some have no discernible skills at all. But they share an uncanny aptitude for the art of self-promotion as well as an unparalleled mastery over social channels that most corporate advertisers still struggle to comprehend.
TheAudience teams with these social superstars, or “influencers,” to roll out coordinated digital campaigns for clients such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, McDonald’s and Ford Motor Co. Typically an influencer is paid to integrate a brand message or product directly into day-to-day social media activity—tweeting from a sponsored music festival, for example, or shooting a workout video dressed in the client’s athletic wear. TheAudience works closely with each influencer to guarantee that content remains on-message and brand-approved, and implements campaign road maps dictating how, when and where influencers will share it.
“Really what we’re doing is casting each campaign,” says Rami Perlman, theAudience’s vice president of talent and influencers. “We’re looking at data and analyzing who is the right person who’s hitting that target. It’s not about who they are. It’s about who’s listening to them.”
Influencers succeed where traditional advertising stumbles by establishing a profound emotional bond with their followers, Luckett explains. “They’re talking directly to you, and they do it really well. You know in a play, when they break the fourth wall and directly address the audience? [Influencers] do it all the time, and they keep it going. Take Acacia Brinley—she was one of the first non-celebrities to get to a million followers on Instagram. In every photo, it’s like she’s peering at you. She’s really going for it.”
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